What Is Septic Shock?


According to Medline Plus, septic shock is a medical condition in which severely low blood pressure occurs as a result of a serious infection. Septic shock is dangerous and requires immediate treatment. Even when treatment is started promptly, the death rate for septic shock is very high.


According to Merck, septic shock occurs as a result of sepsis, your body’s response to a serious infection. Rather than specifically targeting the area of infection, during sepsis your immune system responds to an infection by marshalling a defense that is felt throughout your whole body. If sepsis is allowed to continue, it can lead to organ failure and dangerously low blood pressure. You are considered to be in septic shock if you continue to experience low blood pressure despite treatment for sepsis.

Risk Factors

As Merck states, septic shock is more likely to occur in people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or in people who have weakened immune systems as a result of immunosuppressant drugs or diseases such as AIDS or cancer. Using antibiotics or having a medical device (such as a catheter) inserted also increases your risk of septic shock. As the Mayo Clinic adds, sepsis is also more likely to occur in infants and the elderly.


As MedlinePlus states, in addition to low blood pressure, common symptoms of septic shock may include a high fever or very low body temperature; chills; low urine output; high heart rate; confusion, agitation or fatigue; feeling lightheaded or short of breath. If you experience any symptoms that make you suspect you are in septic shock, seek medical attention immediately; your likelihood of survival is higher if treatment begins promptly.


According to Merck, doctors tend to diagnose sepsis whenever someone with an infection suddenly starts experiencing symptoms. Blood or other bodily fluids can then be tested to confirm the diagnosis. Tests look for evidence of bacteria or abnormal levels of white blood cells.


Treatment for sepsis and septic shock usually begins immediately after a doctor first diagnoses sepsis. Treatment typically includes antibiotics, drugs to prevent inflammation and blood clotting, and intravenous fluids, according to Merck. Patients may also be given oxygen or placed on a ventilator. If a medical device is believed to be the cause of sepsis, the device may be removed.


Septic shock is very serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have found that the death rate for septic shock is almost 50 percent. As MedlinePlus points out, the likelihood of death is influenced by the root cause of sepsis, the amount of organ failure that has occurred and the speed and aggressiveness of treatment.

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